The Expectations of Exploring

This month we’ve been talking in part about the topic of exploring, and I did some exploring with my partner to a Halloween/autumn attraction recently and either I wasn’t in the mood for the exploration or it wasn’t as good as I thought it would be. I think it’s a little of both, but it got me thinking about what happens when we go out and do the brave/courageous thing and explore and don’t find what we expect, or the reality didn’t live up to the hype or we find that the destination is really just a beginning. We get to the end of the road and say something like “now what?” or “that’s it?” or “there’s more?”

I think part of the reality is that life is a journey and even when we explore we’re not necessarily going to end up at a true destination, but that what we thought were destinations are really just stops in the journey. But let’s talk about making the most of your explorations. First, know that not all explorations will be successful or awesome. Even if you put a good spin on them, there are some things that just don’t work out. Yes, they can be chalked up to learning experiences and attempts, and they’re important to have as long as that’s not all that’s happening. If it’s not a great exploration, learn what you can from it and move on.

Second, manage your expectations. Yes, you should go into everything with a positive expectation, or at least the expectation of learning something, but that doesn’t mean that your expectation will be that it’s the end-all, be-all. I can remember going on a trip to a bunch of National Parks among other things with my family as a child and being incredibly underwhelmed by the Grand Canyon, the vast canyon that countless people have raved about since it was discovered. But I’ve seen pictures of the Grand Canyon since then that have blown me away because of the cloud formations or weather that’s part of the image. It’s important to note that I clicked on the link for the picture not because I loved the Grand Canyon, or because I was expecting to see another picture of a hole in the ground, but because I hoped that maybe I would get to see something that was a glimpse of what many people experience when they look at it, and I did.

I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to the Grand Canyon or that Halloween/autumn attraction again or not, but I’m not going to let some not-so-great explorations ruin me forever. I’m still excited to visit more National Parks and more local attractions, and maybe with a little better attitude and slightly adjusted expectations, I’ll have a better time even if it’s not my pick. Sometimes it’s not even about the destination, but about the thrill of exploring. Yes, the destination is great, but sometimes the journey getting there is even better.

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Looking Beyond the Ruins

My heart hurts with the people of Vegas as they struggle to navigate the aftermath of the shooting. As much as we may try to do the right thing and encourage others to do the right thing as well, there will continue to be people who are evil and don’t have good in their hearts. With the tragedy in mind, I thought we’d take a look at the words of Isaiah 51:3:

“The Lord will comfort Israel again and have pity on her ruins. Her desert will blossom like Eden, her barren wilderness like the garden of the Lord. Joy and gladness will be found there. Songs of thanksgiving will fill the air.”

No where in the Bible does God or any of the writers make light of the challenges that we face on earth. Look at Job; no matter what way you look at his situation, he experienced some really tough stuff, Elisha and Elijah were both treated to some natural and supernatural situations and disasters, Abraham didn’t doubt that God could destroy a city, and Saul/Paul accepted being shipwrecked and bitten by a snake, and those are just a few examples of the people in the Bible. Today it’s no different, whether we’re looking at attacks, genocides, money issues, economic troubles, bad leaders or natural disasters, you can’t honestly expect that you’ll “escape” this life without incident. But the good news is that God promises that even with the bad days, good days will follow.

I don’t think God sits up in heaven and shakes His finger at us and says “that’s what you deserve!!”, I think He feels our pain and knows that we’re struggling. Jesus certainly, after spending days in the desert, knows what it’s like to feel desolate and deserted by life, as many of us have seen with neighborhoods completely dark and cold after this hurricane.

What Isaiah says towards the end is what captures my attention: he says that the joy will be found in the barren, now reborn, wilderness. Where there wasn’t much promise, now there is. Where there wasn’t anything worth living for, now there is. What only brought sadness and anger, now brings joy and gladness.

The choice that Israel had to make, and we have to make today, is the choice of how we react to the wilderness. Are we going to react with frustration and anger that we’re in ruins? Are we going to go beyond the reality and see the potential in the future and reach for it with hope and thanksgiving? It’s not about ignoring the bad, or bypassing it. In truth it’s important to see the ruins and come to terms with the tragedy. Not only does that give you perspective for the future, it’s also healthy to grieve for what you’ve lost. But just like the story of Jesus doesn’t end at the sealed tomb, our stories can’t end with us grieving for what we’ve lost. We have to choose to be grateful for what and who we have in our lives.

This week I hope you’ll join me in looking for ways to turn wildernesses into gardens and bringing life back into an area, and a country, that used to be vibrant and full of hope. What are you thankful for?

Reality Reflection: Disappointments

Last night in the US we had the Superbowl.  One team ended up being a winner and one a loser.  We’ve done a reflection on winning vs. losing before, so today I thought we’d talk about a related topic: disappointment.  Just like winning and losing disappointment usually has two sides and what is seen as a disappointment by one is often not seen as such by another.  Just take a look at all the reviews posted online about different books, shows, movies and even businesses.  Some people absolutely love something and other people are really let down by the experience they had.

Disappointment isn’t limited to winning and losing though, it’s something that applies to many areas of our lives, from our relationships to our families to our careers to the articles and books we read and show and movies we watch.  There are also shades to disappointment, it’s not black and white like winning and losing almost always is.  I might have no real opinion of a movie, you might be mildly let down by how that movie turned out, while someone else might go home and post nasty comments on every review site and board they can find and feel forever ruined by that movie.

But like winning and losing, when you experience disappointment there’s always a next step: what will you do about that?  Sometimes we just chalk it up as an experience and move on.  Other times it really motivates and inspires us to do something about it and make changes in that aspect of our lives.  And sometimes we’re so crushed by the disappointment that it shakes our very foundation and we make radical decisions and changes as a result.

If it’s someone or something else that has disappointed you that you don’t have a ton of control over, like the election or a leader or a movie or a sports game, in some situations you look for ways you can continue to support that person/group/thing even though you weren’t thrilled with the latest happenings or something you learned (die hard sports fans don’t give up on their team just because they lost the big/final game of the season).  It’s not wrong to let them know that you’re disappointed, but in this case you’d include a bit of encouragement with the message as well.  In other situations it’s hard to see beyond the disappointment, especially if you feel personally betrayed or hurt.  In these cases it benefits you to take time to really think things over and not give an immediate reaction.  After serious reflection time, and maybe talking things through with some impartial parties (without alcohol involved), then make a decision on next steps.

But before you choose to cut all ties, I encourage you to think about the last time you screwed up and disappointed someone (and don’t say it hasn’t happened, because I know we’ve all done something at sometime).  Think about whether you were hoping for some forgiveness or leniency in your situation and how the other person/people reacted.  Think about how it felt to be the cause of disappointment. And think long and hard about never having this person or thing in your life again. If you can truly then answer that you’re OK letting go, take some baby steps backwards and away from the situation or person and let go.

I don’t believe disappointment has to be the end of what had been something great.  It may be a bump in the road or a detour in the journey, but if you really believe in something or someone, don’t let a disappointment stop you.

Reality Reflection: Winners and Losers

Tuesday this week in the US was election day.  When people woke up on Wednesday morning some were quite surprised with how it turned out and who won.  People were surprised for many reasons including the facts that winner has been someone who has said a lot of controversial things throughout the race and that the winner is not a traditional politician.  As with every race there has to be a winner and a loser, sometimes the underdog wins, sometimes the bad guy wins, and sometimes the winner is the one everyone thought was a shoe-in.  I’m not going to technically reflect on the result today. What I want to talk about is what we can learn from the result of the election, and there are tons of lessons regardless of which side of the very divisive fence you are on.

First and foremost I believe this is a wake-up call. If you listened to the news or lived in the US for the months and years leading up to the election you’re familiar with the unrest that is being experienced  most often as shown with shootings and between the police and minorities.  There have been countless calls for change and change has been slow moving, if it has really even happened. The reality is though that you can’t expect change to happen if you aren’t willing to do anything to change. Sometimes those changes are relatively easy like switching breads because your favorite company went out of business.  Others are much more difficult like learning how to walk again after spinal surgery or after you lost a leg.  The type of change that people have been calling for isn’t the bread type of change, it’s the learning to walk again type of change.  And as the well-known definition of insanity says: insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.  (While that may work for flipping coins it doesn’t work in the situation of human life and tragedy.)

So this very real wake-up call, that the divisive non-politician would be elected, means that people are really sick of how things have been run for a very long time and are finally willing and able to step up and say so.  Maybe what we had wasn’t so bad and we were getting along OK with it, but I believe that we can do better as a people and as a country. Maybe what we need most is someone with a big set of brass balls to step up and make some changes. No one makes all good changes, but the hope is always that the majority of changes that are considered are given careful thought given to how other people will be affected by the intended result before changes are made, and that decisions aren’t made based on superficial qualities like money, skin color or sex.

The second lesson here is that there’s always a chance you’ll lose or fail.  We don’t like losing or failing especially on such a grand scale or in front of so many people, but sometimes it happens.  When the loss or failure happens it is important to take a step back and see why the loss or failure happened.  Maybe you weren’t the right person for the job, maybe you don’t have all the qualities that are needed, maybe you didn’t bring enough confidence to the table, maybe you were trying so hard to make yourself look good and fit the mold that you missed that the mold was no longer a mold, maybe you didn’t throw enough money in the ring, maybe you didn’t give it enough hours, maybe you didn’t try something new, maybe you secretly needed to fail so you could finally have a day off, maybe you needed to lose because there’s something bigger and better for you to work on, and maybe the reason you lost or failed isn’t apparent today but will be revealed years from now.

I close with a thought that I heard as part of one of the reactions to the election result: whether you agreed with the election result or not there’s nothing we can do about it now, it has been decided.  What we can do though is decide how we will live each and every day.  You still have control over the attitude you live with, the career you pursue, the people you’re in relationship with, what you do when you lose or fail, and how hard you work to accomplish your goals, dreams and purpose in life.  One leader can do a lot of good or a lot of harm, but they are only one person, just like you are only one person and I am only one person. We may not have the platform that the president has, but that doesn’t mean we can’t continue to do our part to make the world a better place, regardless of whatever hate or violence others around the world choose to try to throw around.  Don’t let a single loss or failure determine the rest of your life. Don’t stop working after a single victory.  Each day is a new opportunity to resolve to do your very best and make the very best impact on the world you can.

Thankful for Criticism

This month we’re talking about being thankful.  It’s a topic that is encouraging and brings hope when you think about it typically because it is all about looking for the good and choosing to focus on the good and not the challenges or the problems.  But today I want to take a different perspective and talk about Proverbs 15:31-32 which says:

“If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise. If you reject discipline, you only harm yourself; but if you listen to correction, you grow in understanding.”  

Some people are really quick to jump up and offer criticism, it’s always easier to see ways others can improve.  We also don’t really like thinking about our own failures so sometimes we look for the failures of others to hopefully find that they’ll eclipse what we’ve done wrong.  Can we learn from the mistakes of others? Absolutely.  It’s a great idea to learn from their mistakes so that we hopefully can improve on their decisions.  But the simple truth is that everyone screws up at one point in time or another (and most of us do it on a daily basis).

But the real challenge presented in these verses is that it’s really hard to ask for criticism or guidance about your failures.  It’s not easy to ask others to criticize you or something you’ve created and offer feedback, especially when you think you’ve done something really good and others don’t have as much excitement over it as you do.  And then if you do work up the courage to ask for the feedback and they come back with a laundry list of things you can improve on, it can be discouraging.

However, as these verses point out one of the best things you can do is to get constructive criticism (key word there is constructive), and look for ways you can improve yourself. God may have designed you as perfect but that’s not who we are right now, we’ve all got growing to do before we reach that point.  So this week I encourage you to reach out to trusted friends or even to a mentor or someone who doesn’t know you personally and ask them for feedback on how you can grow through the things that are challenging you most right now.  You don’t have to fix everything at once, but you should take at least one forward step each day.

Reality Reflection: Time for Healing

It’s been a busy week for me, I’ve been doing lots of thinking and discovering.  Of course with that typically comes up a lot of the feelings, thoughts, and memories that you wish could stay buried forever.  While some can be reburied immediately (or as soon as possible), others need to be considered and dealt with, typically because they haven’t been dealt with in the past.  It’s not bad to have these things come back up, and honestly, the sooner they do, the better.  Because it’s not until you’ve dealt with them truly that you can really move forward.  Even if you didn’t remember the pain, fear, anger, frustration, hurt or other painful emotions from the past and the memories that they’re connected to, they could be holding you back.  While I’m not a big believer in digging up as much dirt and the past as possible over and over, sometimes it’s necessary to work through what happened and how you felt in the past because it will help you navigate the current change you’re going through in a better way and free you to see the world in a new light.

Whether you’re reinventing yourself, bringing things back to life, looking at things from a new perspective, creating something new, or making changes, you will have to deal with some challenging emotions, including those of failure.  While I don’t expect that you will fail in your process (I hope you don’t!) many people do experience some failures when they’re working through the change process.  Why? Because when things change we typically run into things we haven’t experienced before, or we’ll hit our personal stumbling blocks (including those we haven’t dealt with from the past) and we’ll trip and fall or not get it right on the first try because it’s new to us.   And again, while it’s not fun to fail, no one is perfect and few of us get things right on the first try.

So if you’re going through a time of transition like me, don’t hide or run from the past or the emotions and challenges that you face as you transition, change, think, grow, create or discover.  Know that they are part of the journey and could teach you valuable lessons to apply to your future.  And even if they don’t apply to your future, finally working through them can free you from baggage you didn’t even know you had holding you down.

Reality Reflections: Failure and Loss

This week in the news we’ve been hearing lots about the Olympics.  I’ve shared some thoughts on how awesome the concept of the Olympics is (bringing people together to celebrate talents and victories we can have), but today I want to talk about the darker side of the Olympics, and I’m not talking about what happens after the games end and everyone goes home.  What I’m talking about are the countless athletes who don’t get the medals and glory for their country.  We go through a similar experience when we don’t get the job, when we don’t get the house or when we don’t get the person, so this type of loss isn’t something that is reserved for only those on a world stage.

The reality is that there are lots of talented people on this planet.  Sometimes it will be the right thing for someone else to get the victory.  Maybe you were having an off day or they were better qualified in certain ways.  Other times the other person has an unfair advantage.  Maybe the boss is sexist, maybe someone decided to point and shoot to make their decision, or maybe you just got screwed.  I would like to believe that more often than not the right person is the one who wins, but we all know that the right person doesn’t always win because most of us can think of at least one situation where you were the person who “should” win but didn’t.

So what’s the answer?  I say you should always do your very best, try your hardest and practice mentally and physically so that you have the very best chance to win or be on top.  But don’t pretend that there isn’t anyone else who could come out on top, even if you think there’s no one else in the field.  If it happens that you don’t win, figure out how you can do better next time.  Or if it happens that the loss is not talent related, congratulate them and move on to your next goal.